The University of Colorado needs more state funding and is grappling with a spike in demand among both students and employees for mental health services, Chancellor Phil DiStefano told a crowded ballroom during the annual State of the Campus address Tuesday.
"At a local level, we have the challenge of being 48th in state funding, which accounts for 5 percent of our budget," he said during his 25-minute address. "We have met this challenge by innovating, but we will need to do more."
In a question-and-answer session with Leeds School of Business Dean Sharon Matusik afterward, DiStefano pointed to the state of Illinois as an example for Colorado legislators. Illinois allocated about $25 million for its public institutions to use for scholarships meant to keep high-performing students in-state.
Colorado is one of few states currently seeing an increase in high school graduates, and out-of-state universities have established recruiting efforts in Colorado to entice graduates to leave the state for college, he said.
"I would like to see our state do something similar to (Illinois)," he said. "If our students stay in-state and they graduate from one of our institutions, they will basically stay here, work and add to the economy. I think it's a very good investment for the state."
He said CU instituted the Esteemed Scholars program five years ago as another remedy. The program awards scholarship money to in-state students based on their grades and test scores.
DiStefano also said demand for mental health services is increasing, mirroring a nationwide trend.
"We are seeing mental health stress caused by increased speed and complexity of change, technology, social climate and geopolitics," he said. "Demand for mental health services on college campuses is on the rise, including at CU Boulder."
Since 2014, the campus has seen a 40 percent increase in demand for counseling services, he said. CU has expanded the services it offers, including walk-in appointments, unlimited workshops and group sessions, crisis intervention and one-on-one counseling and therapy, he said. Student athletes have formed a group that aims to de-stigmatize issues of mental health, and the Faculty Staff Assistance Program has increased its staff roster.
DiStefano highlighted other issues and initiatives during the address and question-and-answer session — including CU's continued commitment to its DACA students; ongoing planning efforts, such as academic, diversity and inclusion, and financial planning committees; continued increases in sponsored research funding, which last year broke records at $511.1 million; and his own leadership on the national boards of the NCAA, Pac-12 and Association of American Universities. He talked briefly about the state of on-campus housing, mentioning housing master plan efforts and the university's ongoing work with the city on its 300-plus-acre south Boulder parcel of land, which he said he would like to someday include affordable housing for faculty, staff and students.
DiStefano also highlighted two students: one, a DACA student, and another who is receiving scholarships both for high-achievement and financial need.
Sophie Choubai is one of 246 students on campus who are receiving both the Esteemed Scholar and CU Promise scholarships, he said. The freshman now studying molecular, cellular and developmental biology did not think she'd be able to afford the dream of college as a high school student in Aurora.
"Sophie's family struggled with food stamps, Medicaid and to keep a roof over their heads," he said. "But Sophie knew she didn't want her life to be defined by these hardships, and she was determined to create her own path. She put on a smile and graduated high school valedictorian with a 4.6 GPA last spring. ... I'd like to ask Sophie to stand, to remind us of the students we serve."
In an interview after the address, Choubai said she wanted to share her story because she was able to put together a combination of scholarships, grants, work-study positions and subsidized loans to pay this year's bill in full, which she didn't think she'd be able to do, and she wanted to let others know what she did is possible.
Most of her peers are more well-off and can't relate to her experience, she said. She's in training now for a work-study job in the financial aid office.
"If I wanted to work anywhere, it would've been in the office that helped me the most to come to college in the first place," she said.
"I'm lucky enough to talk to students who are just like me who are confused about the process but still want to attend college and get a higher education."
Cassa Niedringhaus: 303-473-1106, email@example.com